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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Casey Affleck writes, directs and stars in Light of My Life, a cross between The Road, Leave No Trace and The Stand. While the film feels a little too familiar, it rises above the unoriginality in its third act thanks to performances by Affleck and his young co-star, Anna Pniowsky.

A father (Affleck) and daughter (Pniowsky) are living off the land after a plague has wiped out most of the planet’s female population. To protect his daughter, nicknamed Rag, Dad has her dress as a boy and tries to keep her out of the public eye.

Much of the movie involves the two telling stories to each other in what feels like improv; those scenes are actually kind of fun. When the two wind up in the home of a friendly preacher (Tom Bower), the film reaches a new level. The last act of the movie is its best, where Affleck gets to show off his chops at directing a thriller.

Elisabeth Moss, in a role reminiscent of Charlize Theron’s in The Road, plays Reg’s mom in flashbacks.

The film isn’t original enough to be an overall success, but the central performances make it worthwhile.

Light of My Life is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Oh, those evil doppelgängers, and their wonderful place in horror lore. See: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Twin Peaks, The Thing—and now Jordan Peele’s extremely creepy Get Out follow-up, Us.

I ask you: What could be creepier than your double trying to slash your neck? Peele knows that it’s the ultimate nightmare—and Us plays upon it with chilling glee.

The film starts with a quote about America having many miles of tunnels underneath its surface; there’s then a quick flashback shot of a videotape of 1984 sci-fi film C.H.U.D. next to a VCR. A TV plays an advertisement for Hands Across America, and you already have all sorts of subtext before anything even really happens.

With a series in which a young girl (Madison Curry) in the same 1980s flashback drifts away from her father at a beach amusement park and finds herself in a darkened hall of mirrors, Peele immediately makes it clear that he’s not playing around with this movie: Prepared to be scared, disturbed and uncomfortable in a good way.

The film then jumps to the present day, where Adelaide and Gabe (Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) are taking their children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), to the beach. It’s the same beach we saw in the flashback—and much to her chagrin, Adelaide was that young girl who ventured into that hall of mirrors. She’s not happy about revisiting the Santa Cruz pier, but the husband and kids really want to, so she takes one for the team.

The family excursion quickly becomes the worst vacation ever, as another family shows up, at night, standing in their driveway. A quick examination of the intruders reveals what the commercials for this movie have already told you: The family in the driveway is a mirror image of the stunned family inside the house. However, they aren’t coming over to borrow the lawn mower. They intend to kill everybody.

Once again, this vacation sucks.

Us has a larger scope than I was expecting; it qualifies as one of the better apocalypse movies I’ve ever seen. There’s no question that writer-director Peele has been gobbling up zombie, slasher and isolation movies his entire life, and their influences play a significant part in his vision. The movie is a mind-bender, but it’s also an efficient, bare-knuckle horror-thriller. In short, it’s the whole package as far as horror movies go.

Nyong’o, whose doppelgänger’s name is Red, gets a chance to play two meaty roles here—and she’s all over them. While Adelaide is a strong-willed mom for whom we can’t help but cheer, Red is a croaky monster (the only doppelganger that speaks) who comes with an unexpected level of pathetic sadness. She reveals plenty about why she and her evil-twin pals are doing what they do.

Peele fans know that the man—on top of being able to scare the piss out of you—can make you laugh as well. Us is often as funny as it is scary. Duke is a crack-up as the dad who can’t quite get it right while he’s trying to protect his family. In a masterstroke of casting, Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! scores as Gabe’s smug friend. He’s the wiseass husband of Kitty (Elisabeth Moss). Moss does things in this movie that will always qualify as some of her best work.

When asked who they are, Red the doppelgänger leader replies: “We are Americans.” Us might be scary and funny, but it is also an unforgiving condemnation of American missteps, past and present. The movie is a lot of fun, but it’s also heavy.

Peele has a revamp of The Twilight Zone coming to CBS All Access soon, and Us plays like a nice primer for more twisty mischief to come. As for his movies, Peele is on one hell of a roll.

Us is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A husband and wife (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss) struggling in their relationship visit a retreat on the advice of their therapist (Ted Danson)—and they make a startling discovery in one of the guest houses.

That discovery in The One I Love is beautifully clever—and plays like something from a really cool Twilight Zone episode.

Ethan and Sophie are bombing in therapy, and the therapist is not amused. He has the couple strike keys on a piano as a test of their compatibility. He asks them age-old questions, like, “Say, are you two having sex?” When it appears there’s nothing he can do to help, he hands the couple a pamphlet for a place that has worked wonders for some of his past patients.

As a last-ditch effort, the two head for the resort, where they find immediate comfort. They’ve escaped their surroundings, and can crack open a bottle of wine and try to unwind. It’s nothing that resembles a breakthrough, though, so it appears as if Ethan and Sophie might be going through the motions.

Then … the strange thing happens.

This strange thing is the basis of the whole movie, and I would be a major dickweed if I were to reveal the exact details. So, yes, I’m going to attempt to get through the rest of this review without giving away the big twist, which fuels the whole movie. The big twist propels the film into becoming one of the better romantic comedies in years—one with a big brain and strong insight. Calling The One I Love a “romantic comedy” is almost an insult, but it has romance and it is funny, so I suppose it falls into that particular genre.

Charlie McDowell has made an impressive directorial debut, utilizing a solid, brutally honest script from Justin Lader. The movie is about seeing your inner potential fully realized, and the ability to solve mutual emotional problems with self-sacrifice and compromise. It’s also about the healing powers of bacon.

Duplass is making a name for himself as an understated, offbeat romantic-comedy lead. (He starred in another great recent romantic comedy, Safety Not Guaranteed.) Ethan starts off as a sort of undercover douchebag—a mild-mannered guy who has allowed his insecurities to overtake him while committing egregious relationship errors. He’s generally unlikable, and Duplass makes Ethan’s transition seem very realistic.

Moss (best known for starring on Mad Men) has had a movie career spanning two decades, but The One I Love makes it feel like she’s just arriving. She has an arsenal of “looks” in this movie that will make many men shrink in their seats. She successfully taps into both the sinister and sweet sides of Sophie, making Sophie perhaps the most memorable character of Moss’ movie career.

I hope I’ve aroused your curiosity, because The One I Love is the sort of movie many folks in a humdrum relationship—as well as those who are single—should take the time to watch. It’s also a chance to see two performers fully embracing their illuminating characters. Prepare to laugh—but also prepare for some post-movie headaches, because your forehead is going to endure some “I should’ve done that!” palm smacks.

The One I Love is now available via video on demand and online sources, including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing